Despite FDA approval, few Del. employers mandate vaccine
WILMINGTON – Although many were prognosticating that the full federal approval of a COVID-19 vaccine would lead many private employers to require their employees to get one, few in Delaware have actually done so.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration gave its full approval to the two-shot Pfizer/Bio-N-Tech vaccine on Aug. 23, becoming the first vaccine to gain full federal approval from the regulatory board that authorized three different vaccinations on emergency use basis last winter.
Many public health officials had opined that full approval of a vaccine would give greater cover to major employers to mandate their employees get the vaccine, increasing the nation’s inoculated population closer to a herd immunity level as COVID cases grow due to the highly contagious delta variant. One of the more frequently espoused reasons for many who haven’t received a vaccine yet is that they had not been fully cleared by the FDA until now.
More than a week after the Pfizer vaccine gained full approval though, no major Delaware employer has publicly announced a vaccinate-or-terminate policy, where those who don’t get vaccinated risk losing their jobs.
So far, only private health care systems like ChristianaCare, Nemours Children’s Health and Trinity Health, which work closely with exposed COVID cases and immunocompromised patients, have instituted such policies with deadlines in September and October. ChristianaCare, the state’s largest health system and largest private employer with more than 12,000 employees, has come under fire by some employees and conservative activists for its policy.
Dover-based Bayhealth and Lewes-based Beebe Healthcare confirmed to DBT that they still do not require their employees to receive a vaccine, but that those who hadn’t would be required to undergo weekly testing per Gov. John Carney’s recent order.
Even Carney, who oversees the largest workforce in the state with more than 32,000 public employees, did not institute a strict mandate last month for those workers. The order for state health care workers and executive office personnel allows for those who don’t get vaccinated to be tested weekly for COVID instead.
“I think it’s critically important that we get more employer mandates,” said Jennifer Horney, founding director of the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program. “At this point, we’re done dealing with the big chunks [of potential vaccine recipients], so we’ve got to take little slices wherever we can get them.”
“I’m not sure that the inconvenience of needing to test is going to be enough to convince someone who is adamantly against the vaccine,” she added.
While federal courts and regulatory bodies have ruled that mandates for employees are legal, to date, few major employers in Delaware outside of health care and higher education have publicly announced such plans.
On Monday, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca became the largest state office employer to require employees either get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing in order to enter its offices worldwide or meet with clients. AstraZeneca employs about 1,500 people at its U.S. headquarters in the suburbs of Wilmington.
Amtrak, which employs 1,350 in Delaware, primarily at offices in downtown Wilmington, announced a vaccine or weekly testing mandate for current employees on Aug. 12 that goes into effect Nov. 1. As a reward to those who get vaccinated, Amtrak is extending pay protection retroactive to Aug. 1 for any breakthrough cases. Conversely, all new Amtrak employees will be required to prove their vaccination, starting Oct. 4.
“We did not come to these decisions lightly, and we understand it may take some time to process, which is why we are providing you with time to prepare,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told employees in a letter. “While we recognize this is a personal decision for each of us, we are confident it is in the long-term best interest for our colleagues, our customers and our company.”
Other major private employers in Delaware including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Perdue are not mandating vaccinations but are encouraging employees to get inoculated. They alone represent more than 20,000 workers in Delaware.
Although many private employers have not announced strict changes in their policies, Horney noted that the social landscape has changed a bit as major public events like music festivals, including Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival, have required proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for entry. Federal agencies like the Department of Defense are also requiring vaccinations now too, which will reach tens of thousands nationwide, including more than 6,000 at the Dover Air Force Base.
Horney noted that the images coming from hospitals in the South and Midwest have also led to a sharp uptick in weekly vaccinations nationwide.
“I think that the power of seeing people in the hospital in very severe condition and dying has changed some people’s mind, maybe more than the FDA approval,” she said.